In an age of live streaming and online updates, fans of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference have found a way to watch their league in a whole new way.
That was the goal for Steve Bruce, the ultimate hoops junkie who has created an NSIC fantasy basketball league this year.
“I have to have basketball in my life,” said Bruce, who runs the busy @bruce_hoops Twitter account that closely follows high school and college hoops. “It’s another fun way to look at and watch basketball.”
Bruce, who has South Dakota roots, now lives in Marshall and finds passion in watching all the basketball he can. That kind of lifestyle is difficult amid a pandemic, where he can’t attend games in person, but a fantasy league has now blossomed out of it.
“This has been a struggle this season. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m probably not going to get in a gym,” he said. “(This league) is just some people getting a chance to add a little something to our winter to follow the game or follow the conference and learn more about it.”
Bruce has balanced representation across the league, from former players and coaches to media and casual fans. The 14 teams hail from households in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
The league -- called NSIC Fantasy Hoops 2021 -- works like this: Managers pick eight players a week -- three men and one woman from each division -- for their lineup. They’ll face one opponent Friday and another Saturday, and, of course, whoever has the most points wins each matchup. Whoever sits atop the standings at the end of the regular season will be crowned league champion.
“I like to build Google Sheets and stuff like that, so I said, ‘How can I make this work?’” Bruce said. “Then I tried to figure out how to score it and how to get people to play. … You don't have to score a lot of points to be a successful fantasy player.”
Players get five points for making a 3-pointer, three points for a 2-pointer and one point for a free throw. Any miss costs you negative one point, and a turnover is worth negative two. The scale is weighted toward the rare stats, as steals and blocks are worth four points each, assists two, and rebounds one.
“There are a lot of opportunities to score, from pretty much any type of stat you can have,” Bruce said. “You can earn points or lose points. … Really, it rewards those (well rounded) guys and girls.”
There’s another catch, though: Once you add a player to your lineup on a given weekend, you can’t play them again for the rest of the season.
That means even more Bemidji State Beavers are likely to be in lineups down the road. So far, only Derek Thompson and Nick Wagner from the men’s team have been selected, while one manager picked Trinity Myer from the women’s team.
Thompson’s 47-point showing on opening night was tops among all Beavers so far, but managers all missed out on Rachael Heittola’s 54-point surge last Friday against Minnesota State Moorhead.
“You’ve got guys like (Northern State’s) Parker Fox, and you can play him safely every week,” Bruce said. “He just blocks, he gets assists. Derek Thompson has been very good.
“On the girls side… a popular choice to this point has been Erin Norling out of Wayne (State) or Tori Wortz out of St. Cloud State. (Minnesota State’s) Joey Batt is pretty popular. I’ve learned a lot about the conference myself.”
Brooklyn Bachmann was also in one Week 2 lineup, but BSU’s games were canceled due to COVID-19 protocols -- which is another obstacle for Bruce to manage. Each manager has a “COVID list,” essentially their backups if anyone in their lineup doesn’t play in a given weekend.
Bruce admitted that the league has been a lot of work so far. He’s tabulating all the selected players’ points by digging into the box scores and adding everything up himself. But he’s committed to seeing it through for the season.
“The league’s been patient with me. They understand it,” Bruce said. “We’re playing for pride. There’s nothing else.”
The league is online at @2021Nsic on Twitter, where managers and spectators alike can view the scores, standings and updates. But, if all goes according to plan in the world, this unique brainchild will be a one-and-done project.
“Hopefully next year we can all get back to normal and travel to ball games,” Bruce said. “We’re trying to get through winter.”